The role of publicists in indie publishing

Recently I received an email from a TKZ’er. He wanted to ask a follow-up question about our post discussing the Recomended Resource List for indie authors:

I have  a problem not addressed in your post–help with marketing. A clean  manuscript with a great cover means little without knowing how to  get the word out. I am more than willing to do my part in terms of  marketing my books, but as an older writer who isn’t savvy about  social networks, etc., I need someone in my corner. Can you offer  any suggestions or guidance? Thanks a lot.

I might not be the best person to address this topic since I haven’t used a publicist in a few years. But since the question came to me, I’ll give it a shot.

When I first signed my contract with a Big 6 Publisher a number of years back, I knew that the large publishers have in-house publicists who handle author promotion. But like many of you, I’d heard horror stories about new authors who’d been ignored, neglected, or otherwise left to rot on the vine by their in-house publicists. I decided to get proactive. I hired an independent publicist. The PR company I hired offered its publicity services “A La Carte”. Clients paid for a specified number of print interviews, broadcast interviews, book reviews, signings, speaking engagements, etc. I liked that approach.

Here’s what I got out of the experience of using a publicist, the good and the bad:

PRO

Reduced need for self-promotion
I don’t like selling myself. So I loved how the publicist freed me from the burden of arranging my own book signings and interviews. And so what if most of those interviews were with minor outlets in places like Kalamazoo? I was a newbie, so it wasn’t like I was expecting Oprah to be banging down my door.

Time saver
I had spent years writing my first book, and all of a sudden I had to adjust to the demand of producing another manuscript within nine months. Had I been left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have done a single promotional event that year.

Organization
The publicist kept everything on track for me, emailing me nifty little calendars with every event’s details outlined. 

Re-introduction to media

Even though I have a (distant) background in broadcasting, it was extremely helpful to do all those radio shows (plus the rare TV appearance). I was able to hone my “author act” during those events. And it was fun. I loved talking to overcaffeinated radio hosts during their drive-time morning shows. (Since I live on the West Coast, the timing meant I usually had to down a couple of Red Bulls to project enough peppy “author energy” at 4 a.m.)

TKZ dividend
When I decided to start a writing blog in 2008, I didn’t know many other writers. My publicist gave me the names of many of the writers who joined me in launching TKZ. I’ll always be grateful for that assist!

Con

Cost
The publicist’s services didn’t come cheap. It cost about $4,000 to have them arrange a semi-active calendar of book-related events. Considering that the average new author’s advance (for those who even get advances anymore) is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $15,000, that’s a considerable chunk of change.

Bang for the Buck
Did all those paid-for radio interviews, book signings, and other events translate into increased book sales? There’s no way to know, frankly. I certainly felt like I was doing a lot to spread the word that year. But there’s no real way to judge the effectiveness of all that activity.

Final question: Are publicists useful for indie authors?
Could some of you here, legacy, indie, or some combination thereof, share your experiences with using a publicist? How do you think paid PR fits into the evolving indie publishing landscape?
And if you’ve had a positive experience with using an independent publicist, let us know in the comments. And if you’ve had a horror story about paying lots of money for little outcome, please share that as well. (Although it would probably make sense to omit the publicist’s name in that case!)

Note: I haven’t mentioned the name of the publicist I used in the past, only because I’m not sure how active she is in the industry anymore. If I get an update about her status, I’ll let you know.

42 thoughts on “The role of publicists in indie publishing

  1. Promo on indie projects isn’t an easy “one size fits all” solution. Below is a list of resources I have on another of my blogs, but I believe this link is also on the TKZ resource page.

    http://jordandanebooks.blogspot.com/p/i.html?m=1

    Here are a few other ideas to get the word out:

    1.) Goodreads – If you have a print book, you can set up a giveaway on Goodreads with a sign up for readers who want to win it. You get the word out on what your book is about and show the cover in its own contest page.

    2.) Virtual Tours – Find an online tour group who handles your genre and will conduct an online tour to promo your book. An example of such s group is YABOUND who charges a fee for how many reviewer/blog stops you want to make. The fees start at $50 and you can decide how many stops will be reviews (they get the advance books from you) or promotional stops with features on your book.

    There are other ideas, but these get the word out consistently.

    • Thanks, Jordan! I’m wondering if there are publicists who can manage all of these outreach venues for indie writers, including digital, in addition to traditional publicity management?

    • There are some online resources that are getting this notion for helping the indie author get the word out. I think someone smart might eventually find an affordable way (ala carte). One online service, you pay a small fee for them to post your book on up to 50 sites. Bookbub gets the word out to their thousands of readers, but many of these more effective means require your book to have plenty of advance reviews of a minimal rating. It takes planning and patience…and money.

  2. Publicists in the ala carte pymt plan sounds like a solid solution, Kathryn. Wish I had known about your PR person when I started out. I made mistakes, but fortunately have had some good in-house publicists. There simply isn’t an easy solution to PR-ing the indie book unless you spend money to have someone else do it or spend your own time, which eats into your writing hours.

  3. Forgot to add Netgalley as a resource for getting the word out and advance reviews. It costs money to submit each project, but there are author co-ops that you can join to spread the cost. On Netgalley you establish the criteria for the reviewers you personally pick and approve for an early read of your book digitally through Netgalley. Publishers use this service too. Look on their selection criteria for ideas on what to require of reviewers.

  4. Marketing yourself is the most daunting aspect of the whole writing journey. The daughter of a friend of mine is very adept at social media (as it seems all the young are), so I’m getting together with her and we’re going to work on Pinterest and Twitter. I already belong to GoodReads and Facebook plus have my own blog so I’m going to hope that’s a good start.

    I’m reading books on self-promotion and I’m going to talk to my local bookstores and libraries once the book is published but…ask me how much of my second book I have done.

    Very little. An outline. A couple weeks worth of prompts for a few chapters. I’m spending a lot of time researching self-promotion. I plan on paying for advertising on a few blogs, such as Every Day Fiction, a site that has published stories of mine.

    I’m making a plan, I’m allotting a certain amount of time to marketing, and I’m going to adjust accordingly.

    Like right now, I’m going to go check out Jordan’s link…

  5. OK, I’ll share a horror story. The POD firm that released my first book soured me on paying for publicity. (I’ll refrain from saying names, but you can figure it out from my website. I’ve already released a second edition in ebook format.) For somewhere between $1K and $2K, they promised the world, but what their campaign amounted to was spamming everyone on the planet about my book.
    I’ve kept up on other more “reputable firms” ever since, but it seems that they’re just not worth it, given the unknown nature of the results. Let’s face it: there are many necessary conditions for a “bestseller” under your control that you can do yourself, but there are NO sufficient conditions, no matter what PR and marketing firms tell you.

  6. When my writing partner and I self-pubbed our first book, in the days just before the dawn of online indie publishing, we had invested as much money as we thought we could afford to lose. Then my wife took over the publicity. Postcards went to more than a thousand bookstores. Review copies went to a score of mid-size and niche publications. She set up a constant drumbeat. My time was scheduled out for visits to bookstores to sell, signings and interviews. Not only was she able to get the word out and generate enough sales that we actually made money, but our success got us an agent and eventually a book deal with a Big 6 – where the publicist assigned to our book ignored us. My agent explained that unless you sold 50,000 copies she wouldn’t take the time to reply to your email and tell you she couldn’t help you. I figure if I’m selling 50,000 copies, who needs her?

    So based on my experience, when I sell my next book – whether self-pubbed or indie – I’ve already made one important decision. Put my wife in charge of promoting it.

  7. Kathryn, thanks for posting about this topic on every writer’s mind, especially us indie authors! And I’ll be reading all the comments to pick up tips, as I’m doing all my own publicity on my two craft-of-writing books.

    I don’t think I have any great promo ideas to add, but if I think of any, I’ll definitely drop back and share them!

  8. I like this post, because publicists have been on my radar recently.

    A couple of weeks ago I did an interview with a fairly new mystery writer I discovered this spring. Her second book comes out in January, and I’m writing an article on her for Southern Writers Magazine to coincide with her next book release.

    This author does use a publicist and has one she loves. She told me she believes every author can benefit from hiring a publicist, but did caution that they’re not always easy to find, and can be difficult to vet. This author loves her current publicist but had a bad experience with an earlier one.

    She pointed out one thing that impressed her with the current publicist: this one made it clear she would read the author’s book before trying to market it. Apparently this isn’t always the case — some publicists employ “canned” marketing strategies but aren’t concerned whether you’re writing about making widgets or killing fictional people.

    Here’s what this fiction author said about having a publicist:

    “An agent gets your book in front of publishers, and a publicist takes the next step, getting your book in front of the industry, which is exactly how you get your book in front of the reader and on the shelves. I chose my agent, Claire McKinney, because she had so many years of experience with Big 6 publishers (and mysteries) before she struck out on her own.”

    And, in case it’s helpful, this author also gives credit for her positive publishing experience to a great agent and a the small press she published with. She says the small press is very invested and gets very involved with helping their authors promote their books.

    Jordan mentioned Net Galley as well. This small press — Henery Press — uses Net Galley to promote their authors’ books. I snagged a copy of the mystery author’s upcoming book off of Net Galley and got to read an advanced copy. These are helping her collect advance reviews before the book launches next January.

    It’s nice to get these testimonials about publicists. Thanks for the great post, Kathryn!

  9. This is always a tricky one – as often you don’t really know what works/doesn’t work on the publicity front. I still don’t know…Be interested in hearing anyone else’s experiences with publicists

  10. After having had a (non-indie) book out for a year, with a fairly active publisher-provided publicity department, I am honestly thinking of hiring a publicist for my next book. There is still a ton of self-promotion that a non-famous author has to do him/herself. I have found that it’s exhausting to figure out good venues and to actually get bookstores and other places to respond to my queries about whether or not they would want me to come do a signing. It’s very demoralizing and there are times when I just give up for awhile to get back my energy for the process.

    Also, my book (which is a cookbook) has done fairly well. And I’ve found that success begets success. So, the more the word gets out about my book, the more people want me. So, I think a good publicist might be worth his or her weight in gold.

    • Jeanne: I think your time would be well spent hanging out on cooking blogs and are aimed toward your specializations and areas of interest. If you always have a hook back to your cookbooks in your emails or your profile, you are going to generate interest. Hopefully, your books and ideas are focused in a direction that is new and exciting and will cause people to go WOW!!

      Because of my new diet and my extremely successful liver and cholesterol stats, I have been looking at Vegan recipes everywhere.

    • Apologies to Kalamazoo-ites! I chose that one because I love the way it sounds, no disrespect intended! My hubbie is a U M grad, so I know he’ll take me to task when he hears about the slight! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Just to let you know: I am extremely active on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog, as well as on other blogs (this is one of the reasons the publisher liked me). And still it’s an uphill battle. It’s exhausting. Also, I’m not, by nature, a self-promoter. I’m more of a make friends type. I know all of the biggies in the cookbook world as either an acquaintance or a friend, and I am constantly meeting more folks.

      Of interest: my book has done *extremely well*, but my publisher wants more. They always want more. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Sounds like you’re making great progress, Jeanne. Nonfiction has its own platform-building requirements, and you seem to be touching the right bases there!

  11. For those less techie folks out there, I’d say to check out some writing blogs, personal blogs, etc. The blogs which have share buttons, etc. If the blog suits your fancy, contact the blog owner and ask to guest post on similar topics.

    My blog is about making progress with my own writing and I publish tips I learn in creative writing classes (of course crediting the instructors for their genius). ๐Ÿ™‚

    The formats for many guest posts are usually the article you send, your book cover and link to Amazon or wherever it is that you are selling your book. It might be a good idea to get your name a book on more established blogs.

    Do Google searches on some blog articles, blog titles, and blog URLs and see what kind of results you get back. If the blogger is utilizing optimizing techniques, their articles will show up in your search results. If that’s the case, then potentially, your article will show up just as easily when it is published. Your published article, your book cover, and your name with author bio all get some exposure, even though your article is hosted on another blog.

    I hope that makes sense. Here’s an example of an article I hosted on my blog. The guy was funny and I loved the article, so I posted it, along with his photo, book cover, and link to his book. Here’s the formatted article so you know how it works.

  12. Thank you very much for this timely post. Guess what I was googling today? Yep, indie authors and publicists.

    I started self-publishing last year and apart from doing a few interviews on blogs, having a book launch event, and doing a few library signings, I did not spend an excessive amount of time on marketing and promotion. Oh, I did do a Goodreads giveaway of 5 signed paperbacks and also entered the book in three competitions/awards (IPPY, Next Generation Indie, National Indie Excellence, KBR, and Hollywood Book Festival). It was a winner and a finalist in three of them.

    This year was different and I organised two one-month long book tours in March and April. It was fantastic but exhausting. And yes, it ate into writing time a LOT! Did the tours produce reviews? Yes. Did those translate into sales? Yes, but not a great amount. At this stage in my career, gaining visibility is a more important aim than sales.

    I then tried a variety of marketing and promotion activities from July to September. I did KDP Select for the first book in the series (had 4000+ free downloads on my free days but only a handful of reviews so far out of those downloads). I used Ebook Booster to get my books into a number of free sites, went directly to Free & Discounted books (successfully) and Bookbub (was unsuccessful twice), and paid for social media packages and advertising with WLC and Digital Book Today. This bout was less physically draining than book tours but still time consuming.

    I have stepped back from marketing and promotion for the next few months, which is probably a rotten idea as the holiday season is the best time to be buying marketing and promotion packages, so I’ve been told anyway. There are two reasons for this decision. One, I have to finish Book 3 ASAP. Two, I have done a revised edition of Book 1 while simultaneously writing Book 3 (I know, one should really STOP rewriting once the darn thing is published, but the feedback for Book 2 was so good, I just had to bring Book 1 up to that level!).

    Marketing and promotion starts all over again in the New Year, once that second edition of Book 1 is released. I aim to enter it in Netgalley first, followed by Book 2 a month later, followed by the ARC of Book 3 about 4-6 weeks prior to its release. I also intend to post a chapter a week of Book 1 on Wattpad once the second edition is released.

    About the only awards I’m considering entering this December are Next Generation Indie and KBR. I will use Digital Book Today and maybe some of the others (Bookbub would be great to access). I’m considering Author Marketing Club but not sure about it yet.

    I will probably try KDP Select again before the summer holidays.

    And I will put my rights up on IPR License and may also seek an agent to sell some of these rights for a limited period.

    So, all in all, a good publicist would be a godsend but I suspect it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack and the cost would be astronomical.

    Thanks for all the great ideas and suggestions being put on here ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Have read about a few authors doing this Alec, but with almost no success. I know it’s something I haven’t considered for that very reason as it doesn’t seem to be an effective way of promoting yourself as an author (yet). I am one of those people who avoid reading those ads and have yet to click on one (sorry!) so I couldn’t see the point of doing it to others. But, part of this journey is trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Of the tactics I tried in summer, I know some that haven’t worked and will not be using them again.

  13. I knew right from the start that a publicist was not feasible for me. I am living on a very fixed income-disability, so I can’t afford that. I am working on my first novel, so I don’t have a lot of resources. The one advantage I do have, is my background. I spent over 30 years in customer service and marketing. I don’t have a problem marketing myself. Of course, my experience is not in the publishing field, (darn it!) but I am assuming that the main principles are similar. There are many free things that you can do. I have gone to signing at my local library. In speaking with the librarian in charge of it, I mentioned that I was a “newbie” and working on my first novel. She said that when I had published it, to let her know. She would be more than happy to set up a signing for me as well. There are book fairs, swap meets, etc. None of these cost more than the gas for your transportation to get there. Of course, there are also the contacts that you make along the way. As soon as I decided to write and be serious about writing for publication, I began to set up my platform. I started my blog (I review debut authors) and got a Facebook account, Twitter account, Goodreads and LinkedIn. It is a lot for someone that is an unknown. I started all these at different times, between a year to a year and a half ago. It is starting to pay off. I just reached 800 likes on Facebook and 2,578 Twitter followers. Not a lot compared to a lot of authors, but not bad for someone that hasn’t published a word yet–beyond my blog, of course. My point is, I started marketing before I started anything else, so hopefully, I would have that base when I need it. I have made a lot of great contacts, online friends and offers to beta read for me when I’m ready. I believe I’m off to a good start.

    • Wow, you are already ahead of the game, Rebecca! Sounds like you have the skill set to actually be a publicist–but we want you to keep going as a writer, instead, of course! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Jodie mentioned contests. I’m paranoid about them too. For one famous writing magazine’s contest, I calculated how many entries it would take for them to break even. Try the calculation some time–you’ll conclude it’s a scam. The only contests I enter are free with no prizes offered–that’s like having a gaggle of beta readers for your book or short story!

  15. I’m not an author, but as a blogger I have been contacted by a few very good publicists, and some spammy ones that I just ignored because I don’t have time for that.
    I think a good publicist can build relationships with bloggers that authors just don’t have time for, so that could be a good resource if you have more money than time. And bloggers are a good way to get your book out there. We love to help. ๐Ÿ™‚

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